Tuesday 27 July 2021

Only in the Guardian ...

 Only a Graun sub-editor could let fly with this ...

To win support!  The sheer wickedness of it!


Friday 23 July 2021

Government poorly served by the civil service

Apologies for the lack of posts from me this month, should improve a bit now. Real world work has been very busy which I guess is a good thing overall.

Watching the unfolding PR disaster of the Government this week has been quite something. I really am lost as to how nearly 18 months into the pandemic, the Government still can never seem to get ahead of its own agenda. 

Today they released the list of occupations where the self-isolation rules won't apply. How is it possible they had not planned for this a week or two ago? A lot of blame is going on Boris and the Tories for this, rightly so as the buck stops with them.

However, what the hell is the civil service up to? Why are the Ministers constantly in a flux of changing medical and governmental advice. It is one thing to accuse the Tories of lacking consistent messaging, which they surely do, but the lack of preparation and foresight sits firmly on the civil service. 

They are the ones enacting the policies of the Government and supposedly considering all the pitfalls and opportunities. Very little of this seems to be going on. As a taxpayer the value for money here is really poor. 

Dealing with a pandemic is a challenge, but the strategy has been right for a long time now after the initial few months of screw ups. It is the delivery which is so poor and the Government should ask questions of the competence of its senior advisors....maybe Dom was right....

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Lambasting Liverpool

Dawn and I had a fair amount in common ... a shared South Welsh/Irish heritage via peri-urban council estates; swearing; and a deep love for Liverpool ... Whenever we met up in Liverpool, you could see Dawn revel in its doolally joie de vivre, its Irishness, its Catholicism, and the simple fact that it’s a place where being a socialist doesn’t make you a weirdo.

Maybe that recent endorsement goes some way towards explaining one or two other current news items concerning Liverpool ... 

Liverpool has been stripped of its coveted world heritage status after Unesco blamed years of development for an “irreversible loss” to the historic value of its Victorian docks. The UN’s heritage body concluded at a meeting in China on Wednesday that the “outstanding universal value” of Liverpool’s waterfront had been destroyed by new buildings. The decision is a humiliating blow for the city and gives Liverpool the ignominious distinction of being only the third place to lose the status in nearly 50 years. 

And this:

“Nothing less than a full reset of the Labour Party in Liverpool is needed.” [The report] recommends that Labour nationally takes over candidate selection processes in Liverpool until June 2026, and that it immediately fast-tracks outstanding complaints in the Liverpool City region, completing them within six months. The panel led by former government minister David Hanson says it received evidence identifying a “toxic culture” within the Labour group on the council and “dysfunctional governance running throughout the organisation”. Looking at local party meetings, the internal investigation was “told of a toxic atmosphere in some meetings, not welcoming to members, where often members especially women were targeted for bullying or abuse”. The panel was “presented with evidence of a history of antisemitism that already has led to expulsions and suspensions”

Scouse takeaway:  mmm...
Such a pleasant place!  (And we haven't yet wheeled in David Olusoga to tell us about the slave trade.)   Personally, I'm extremely partial to Beatles music which goes a long way to redeeming other shortcomings: but (strange factoid) Liverpool is, I think, the largest city in western Europe where I've never done any business.  I do have friends there, though.  And scouse is, errrr, a remarkable foodstuff ...

Yet I imagine there are C@W readers with more positive things to say about the place ... so do please let us know!  

"Did you tell me once Father Jack had a trial for Liverpool?"   "No, Dougal, he was on trial, in Liverpool ..."


Monday 19 July 2021

Getting Forensic on Starmer

Well, it's what he supposed to be famous for ...

So last week there was some self-serving Stamer-stuff shared with the Beeb, and our man had his line, and by heck he'd learned it well.

“I could see tonight what people wanted to know was: ‘That sounds good. It sounds like what I want to hear. But can you earn my trust over the next few months and years into the next general election in order to make me vote for you?’ And that is what I will do. I will sweat blood over those months and years to earn that respect.”

.... "trust must be earned. And what I heard tonight was that people weren’t saying, ‘I’ll never trust you.’ What I heard them say is ‘I’ve lost confidence in Labour, but I could, I could have confidence in the future, but it’s up to you to win it.’ And that’s what I’ll do, you know, sweating blood for the next few days, weeks, months, and years in the next general election."

Now whose fingerprints are all over that form of words?  I have a long memory for these things.  Way back in 1997 after the GE, Peter Mandelson craved respectability on the Left beyond the confines of his nasty little den on Millbank, and decided to stand for the Labour Party NEC.  He did the rounds of the studios in his unctuous way, saying (this is from memory**, but fairly verbatim for all that): 

"What I hear people in the Labour Party saying is: 'We know this chap has had a lot to do with the Election victory, we like that, but we think he should be more accountable, we think he should be on the NEC'."

Let's stick our necks out here and suggest that Mr M never heard a single person say that: he made it up.  (Certainly, he got somewhere close to nul points in the NEC election that year.)  I'm not alone in thinking suspicious things like this: the good lefty folks at Novara media have the same view on a 2021 Mandelson "citation", concerning something he was "told on the doorstep" -  while pounding the streets at the recent Hartlepool by-election, no less (yeah, right - mushy peas in hand, shoe-leather almost worn through, dusk falling) that goes as follows:

“One person said to me ‘Sort yourselves out, sort yourselves out. You picked the wrong brother and you ended up with Corbyn so that’s goodbye to you. When you’ve sorted yourselves out, we’ll look at you again’. That is what the Labour Party has got to do.”

Yup, pretty implausible again.  And I think we may forensically discern the modus operandi.  You come up with a fairly subtle, oblique line that serves your purpose (Trust is a wonderful motherhood-&-apple-pie thing: nobody can object to me wanting some of that.  I'm going to win back people's trust, starting with this: 'I'm so honest and humble that I admit the Labour Party - that is to say, the previous guy - blew it'.)  Next, you ventriloquise it into the mouth of Someone you conveniently met.  Then you report it as your having rightfully been given your marching orders: you've listened carefully, you humbly realise they're right: and by golly, that's what you're going to do!

In short: this is Mandelson-playbook format, with Mandelson known to be very much on the case right now; you, KS with your carefully learned and self-serving lines, are Peter Mandelson's stooge; and and I claim my Boy Scout Political Forensics badge.



** After drafting this I googled on the offchance of finding something corroborative from 1997.  And lo! - this, from the Graun ... 

"people have seen me at the centre of things, doing this, doing that, apparently calling the shots, giving the orders. 'But, accountable to whom?' they ask ... 'Who elected him? Who put him there?' They by and large see me as a force for good in the party and the Government, but they would like to see me be more accountable, and I think they're right". 

Oh, it's so perfectly crafted, you gotta love it!  "Who elected him? ... so I suppose, well, we'd better, errrr, elect him!"

Friday 16 July 2021

What George Orwell Didn't Realise

All manner of ambitious people are in the market for good psychological insight.  Businessmen, con artists, priests, politicians ...

'Smith!' screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. '6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You're not trying. Lower, please! That's better, comrade. Now stand at ease, the whole squad, and watch me.'

It's long been obvious that no legislation is required to force a large section of society to keep their telescreens on at all times.  

And now we have Peleton:  being shouted at remotely for not keeping up with your communal exercises performed in front of the telescreen.

Orwell was a pretty good leftie psychologist, and reckoned people could be made to love Big Brother (and keep those screens on).  He hadn't perhaps realised that plenty of people love Big Brother without any compulsion whatsoever - and are willing to pay to have him beamed into their homes & watch their movements.  Ah, capitalism!  -  always ahead of the game.


Thursday 15 July 2021

Bank of England - What inflation?

 So as we see record rises in inflation and to continue Nick Drew's theme some key elements are being ignored...

There is a much wider theme at work, there is a huge shortage of computer chips due to raw materials shortages. The big issue is the change in demand with cars now needing more chips as well as phones and most things electrical - the supply chain for the near doubling of demand is going to take a couple of years to fix. Plus China, as ever, interferes where it can with raw materials and supplies to Taiwan which is the home of much of the world's chip production (recent military manoeuvres too on the China side of the Taiwan strait are fund too....).

So used cars, used computers etc are all seeing huge bump in price, as are say new cars which are limited in number. 

Against this background, the Bank of England issue another £1.5 billion of quantitative easing this week to try to get the UK economy booming again.  Err....excuse me? Wage inflation is at over 5% this year, supply of goods is restricted. There are only two outcomes.

Stagflation - inflation but little economic growth or just plain old inflation with higher wages and prices in a spiral. 

The genie is out of the bottle, last time this happened, it was 20 years to get it back in. Plenty of time over the summer for us to reflect on how this will impact the Economy, markets and Government. 

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Inflation (part 94)

Not for the first time this year, I can't help drawing attention to surging energy prices:  they are continuing strongly.  Wholesale gas in Europe has doubled (sic) in the past 4 months, with electricity, coal and carbon rocketing also.  I don't recall anything quite like this since oil went to $147 for a nanosecond in 2008.

The recovery programmes are starting to kick in.

Post-covid wages are obviously under huge upwards stress in many sectors.  Catering staff can't be found, as any trip to the pub / restaurant / hotel will readily confirm.

Where on earth is this heading?   Very uncomfortable for some - even the triple-locked pensioner might be queasy.  Sunak has balls if he seriously proposes to short-circuit that.


Monday 12 July 2021

Open Thread, Footie Special

 Ho, hum.  Even more politico-sociological potential than usual.  Have at it!



PS: was it a particularly eye-catching streaker that the TV wouldn't show or talk about?  Or something political?  (Or both?)

If nobody actually knows, we can have a compo and guess ...

Saturday 10 July 2021

Afghanistan and an important political principle

A principle in public affairs offered here several times before is that lines of logistics in politics can be very short  (Drew's Fourth Law of Politics).  Deals of enormous importance can be struck in a trice and sometimes delivered almost as quickly: think the Tory-DUP pact after May's disastrous GE 2017.  This is especially true of foreign affairs.  Unlike many domestic spheres when delivery on a policy can take years, a treaty can be signed and often executed in a flash: think Treaty of Paris 1763, which re-drew the map of the world.

So when the Americans and *ahem* their allies slunk away from Afghanistan last week, what did anybody expect?  That people would sit back and watch the Taliban slowly roll up the map, like the North Vietnamese in 1975?  The Afghans are - of course - in discussions with a range of possible "new friends" and something quite radical is likely to happen in that geography very soon.  Stroke of a pen.  Overnight.  Only limitation is the imagination of those concerned.

The USA, though often more inclined to rely upon overall might than ingenious diplomacy, was nonetheless once quite adept at this stuff in its own way.  What a senile prat Biden is.  How much more of the world is he going to allow to be carved up over the dinner table - by other people?


Friday 9 July 2021

Friday Fun: All projection is reflection

 Absolutely the worst thing happening this week is the adoption of the England Football team by all and sundry. 

Heaven know we have needed a good news story for a while and here one is. But this weekend is going to see an ocean of pixels and newsprint devoted to "Why England's success means...." and what comes after will surely be whatever the pet subject is that the author normally bangs on about ad infinitum. 

Here are my ideas for what we might want to avoid reading:

"Why England's success shows a new emergence of left-wing patriotism"

"Why England's success shows the positive of conservative patriotism"

"Why England's success can only happen outside of the EU"

"Why England's success shows Boris is a bad leader"

"Why England's success shows Boris is a good leader" 

"Why England's success shows immigration is good"

I mean, all of the above I have either read or know I am going to be asked to read in the near future. It is a tedious part of the new click-bait media culture that see churnalists just use whatever the new bandwagon is to keep their own views going. No one I see is using it to change their established and set views on the world which seems to be the norm these days, unfortunately. 

So as a task for the readers over the weekend, I have some work for you. Below are some heroically bad takes, even worse than the above. Can your precis an article for them for 100 words in the comments, even better if some moron's write them and you can post links to them...

"Why England's success is a prelude to the green revolution"

"What England's success tells us about capitalism" 

"Why England's success is good/bad for LGBT issues"

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Silly Season: Summer Reading

À propos of a note I made about capitalist innovation at the dawn of the industrial revolution, yesterday one of our esteemed BTL anons kindly recommended my well-known classic on this topic: 

"The history of donkeys in pre-Industrial Great Britain"      Author - Nick Drew. ISBN 978-0-7334-2609-4. Price: £9.99

Haha! Cheap at twice the price: I have a few signed copies left ... 

Suckers who bought this also liked: 

  • "High Fashion on the High Street: how M&S single-handedly revived the British shopping experience" by Bill Quango
  • "A Capitalist's Giude to Spelling" by CU 
  • "Me and My Mask: cheerful floral designs for that essential, easy-to-wear accessory nobody should be without" by EK 
  • "Where Is He Now?" by BE    (who? - ed
  • "I Agree With Nick!" - the important new best-selller, by Timbo

What else are you taking to the Festival this summer, for those rainy afternoons?


Friday 2 July 2021

Amazon scrapping stuff by the million: a free-market conundrum

Let's elevate our gaze from Batley & Spen, excellent result as this is (as Elby pointed out in the comments on yesterday's piece below), and before the footie starts up again.  Back to proper C@W stuff: and for those who missed it in all the excitement, an Amazon warehouse has been bubbled for sending hundreds of thousands of perfectly serviceable items for scrap every month - indeed, with a target of 130,000 items per week, no less!   The knee-jerk reaction to this is obvious enough and, being someone who abhors inefficiency & waste, I felt it myself.

But that's it, isn't it?  Knee-jerk.  What's the analysis? 

"Analysts suggested goods might be being destroyed in this way because it is cheaper to dispose of them than to continue storing the stock.  Similar investigations in France and Germany have found evidence of the practice in other Amazon warehouse."  (Well of course.  And anywhere else in the world, we may be sure.)

 Here's the analysis I'd want to see.  What if any is the role of the following factors?

  • retail price maintenance? (i.e. not wanting to cannibalise prices by offloading at deep discount instead of scrapping).  If so, at whose behest - Amazon or the manufacturers / importers?
  • contract terms imposed on suppliers by Amazon? (e.g. £xx per month warehouse charges if a single item is left unsold).  If so, do such charges bear any relationship to cost?  At whose cost of capital?
  • industry practice elsewhere?  Maybe every bulk distributor/retailer is doing the same, but mostly flying under the radar because they are much smaller & less high-profile than Amazon
  • are all laws & regulations on recycling / waste disposal / landfill charges etc being observed?
  • are other relevant externalities being priced correctly?  (can't think of any at the moment, retail / logistics not being my specialist subject; but I bet there are some: over to Mr BQ ...)

I'm also willing to bet that, on a given set of 'reasonable' assumptions on each of the above, there could be a hard-nosed, wholly-logical economic rationale for the practice we've glimpsed here.  The hard fact - often deeply counter-intuitive to the layman - is that sometimes the marginal value of hard tangible commodities is zero, or even negative.  Happens in the energy business (my sphere) all the time, exemplified by (e.g.) wholesale electricity / gas / oil prices going negative (respectively: frequent / rare / only once ever).  Like the concept of a negative inventory in storage which, again, happens in my game all the time.**   By the lights of whatever calculation this would be, scrapping wouldn't be "inefficient" or "wasteful" at all.

But it's still intuitively abhorent, and if I were a policy maker, I'd be saying two things.

1. Show me small tweaks on the pricing of the externalities that gives a different economic outcome; and if that turns out to be easy, we'll regulate accordingly.  There are strong parallels with our perennial debate over what's the "optimum" degree of self-sufficiency: it depends upon your assumptions, of course.  PS, I'm particularly interested in things that have Amazon as their principle economic 'victim', because it's pretty damned obvious that right now Amazon is under-taxed by a big margin, i.e. effectively subsidsed already. 

Or else:

2.  We're going to ban it, period.  And before the free-marketers rise up and howl "traitor", well I'm a free-marketeer too; so let me give you precedents.  Many years ago, the largest UK North Sea oilfield (Forties / BP) had no gas gathering system.  Oil production almost always yields associated gas, generally captured and piped away as a perfectly valuable by-product, or used locally as fuel.  But in its permitting application BP made the case that in this particular instance, the field was so far offshore, and the amounts of gas relatively small, that no economic gas recovery was possible: pipeline would cost too much don'tya know, old boy.  But the nation wanted the oil production to go ahead - so the gas (which in absolute terms was actually rather a lot) 'had to be flared'.  And so it was, for many years.++

Well, BP's 'economics' were there to be audited alright.  We may be sure the numbers added up, down and sideways: spreadsheets are like that.  But one day the government had had enough, and told BP to sort itself out.  Lo and behold, BP had another look, and found a way.  Like so many things, you don't know what you can do until you must (see the Piper Alpha story we've recounted before: one of the most powerful economic lessons I know).

Waste on that scale is an abomination.  If the 'numbers' show it's the right thing to do, well the inputs are wrong and they need to be changed.  That can be arranged.



**These are the real-world phenomena which completely screw the minds of econometricists, those 'academic' astrologer-charlatans who leech off unconfident and gullible managements and governments.  I was once told that negative power prices couldn't exist because the mathematical representation that was used to model them couldn't accommodate a negative.  Pfft.  By the standards of the physics of the day, Watt's steam engine was also impossible.  A good job us practical types are allowed to just get on with things.  Oh, and by the way, there is a perfectly good way of modelling it - just need to work a bit harder, that's all.

++ The entire Russian oil industry used to work like this, BTW, flaring its associated gas: and the Russian gas industry flared its NGLs!  Could be seen from space at night.